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Monday, April 24, 2006

 

Never Mind the Bad and the Ugly

I let over thirty years of my life go by without having read The Grapes of Wrath. What the hell was I thinking? Finally, a few years ago, in the middle of a spree of classic-novel reading, I found my wife's ancient paperback edition and started through it. Wow.

I'd read Of Mice and Men after seeing the Malkovich/Sinise movie version, and it was good and all. But The Grapes of Wrath is just so much deeper. The language is so much more beautiful. The scope of the story is so much grander. And the ideas contained within echo my own viewpoint so very well. I fell in love with the book. And I began to wonder about people still dreaming about writing The Great American Novel. Had they just not read The Grapes of Wrath?

I'm not saying that people should stop writing. Just, what are the chances that someone's going to come that close to perfection? I mean, I'm re-reading it now and I'm just awed by the balance Steinbeck struck between the poetic and the vernacular. By how keenly he makes you feel the plight of the itinerant workers. By the sharply drawn characters and the dynamics between them. God, it's just so good.

I can think of so very few things in life that are quite that good. Things that shouldn't be changed one tiny bit. It's so wonderful to find these things.

Things like Alan Moore's The Watchmen, which blends words and pictures like no graphic novel before or since. It's the pinnacle of the art form. In fact, it validates comics as an art form.

Things like the Ren & Stimpy episode Space Madness or Chuck Jones's Rabbit Fire, in which Bugs and Daffy argue over which hunting season it is while poor confused Elmer Fudd repeatedly blows Daffy's beak off. These cartoons are, arguably (I suppose), the absolute best use of absolutely brilliant characters.

Things like Neko Case singing "The Tigers Have Spoken" or Ray Charles singing "You Don't Know Me", two songs that perfectly fit the voices of two truly great singers.

Things like my mom's lasagna, a meal that I could happily eat every day.

Things like Casablanca or Young Frankenstein, in which pitch-perfect casts were led through the perfect script by just the right director. How often does that happen? How often do you have a movie that just works on every level? These are movies that make you want to lynch hacks like Michael Bay.

Things like Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby or the cheesecake at Manhattan's Comfort Diner, two desserts that have undone every inch I've ever run on a treadmill.

Things like Glengarry Glenn Ross or Hamlet, the kind of plays that actors will sell their soul to be in. The kind of plays that give an actor a chance to be truly great. It makes it almost worth paying your dues in another shitty version of The Odd Couple or your director friend's ill-fated production of Oh, Seagull!, his singin' and dancin' Chekov adaptation.

Things that are good. Things that fill you with happiness and satisfaction. Things that can't really be improved upon. (I'd add my wife to this list, but she'd just accuse me of ass-kissing. Plus I really don't want anyone else trying to experience having her for a wife.)

It's nice sometimes to remind yourself that these good things exist.

Comments:
that's my favorite episode of ren and stimpy ever. wow. i guess i should go pick up The Grapes of Wrath...
 
The Grapes of Wrath is amazing, as is your ma's lasagna.
 
Where's the misery in that post? I feel short-changed. I come here to wallow in how horrible life is in this country thanks to Chief Executive Clownhole and you go and ruin it with this post.

What a buzzkill.
 
I just have to add that To Kill a Mockingbird is also truly great.
 
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